2009/11/13: Biesheim 80 km
We headed north along the Rhine from Basel, and soon entered France. It took a little getting used to the bike route signs in France; things aren’t quite as well organized here as in the German-speaking countries, and at one point we missed a turnoff and had to backtrack. The cycling was easy as it followed the Rhine canal, and the locks were pretty. Turning away from the canal onto a route forestière, we made good use of a picnic shelter in the woods for lunch.
We reached Neuf-Brisach and found a hotel that we were told would open at 4:30 p.m.. This gave us time to pedal around the fortifications of this historic garrison town. On our return, we were informed that the hotel didn’t open on Fridays unless one had a reservation. We pressed on to Biesheim, and found a really comfortable Logis de France hotel.
We know Leon would scathingly refer to the style in which we are travelling as we wrap up our journey as “bourgeoisie”, however, we hope he has a chance to travel this way when he is our age, when the weather’s this wet, and the days this short. The owner of the Hostellerie Groff was a veteran of the Camino de Santiago, and she decided to spoil us. At dinner, we were brought an extra hors-d’oeuvre and a large platter of frites, and our breakfast was on the house. Thank you!
2009/11/14: Obernai 76 km
Using the guide book lent to us by Anne-Louise, and following Diane’s advice for a more interesting alternative to the canal route, we moved west to the route that passes through villages at the foot of the Vosges Massif.
The Alsacien villages are pretty, with half-timbered houses, lace curtains, window boxes, and traditional detailing. Arriving in Obernai, we were directed to a hotel where we ordered the delicious Menu Alsacien for dinner (substantial salad, potato galette topped with bubbling cheese, ham etc.) and slept like logs.
2009/11/15: St. Louis 69 km
We were kindly guided by Patrick, a local cyclist, through a few complex wiggles of bike route. When it was time for coffee, I began to look around and saw a man in an apron outside the local arena. He announced “Ici on vend du foie gras!” so we parked our bikes and went inside. Foie gras is a local specialty, and this was the season for foie gras. Not only did we buy chocolate éclairs and consume our share of free samples, but we also bought freshly pressed apple juice and mousse de foie de canard, and we watched dancers in traditional Alsacien costumes. We met Patrick and Brigitte from Strasbourg, who plan a cycling adventure in South America in 2010.
We ate lunch at a height of land in the Vosges, and at Saverne we turned west along the Marne-to-Rhine Canal, crossing from Alsace to Lorraine and reaching the Plan incliné de Saint-Louis Arzviller at a height of land which the old canal crossed using a ladder of seventeen locks. The plan incliné – inclined plane – is is a massive mechanical-hydraulic device that can lift or lower two or three barges at a time, depending on their size. We had a quick look, but continued up hill because it was closed for the season, so we could not inspect it more closely.
At the top of the hill we met Albert on his bike. He not only invited us for supper and the night, but also took us on a detailed tour of the Plan Incliné and the old canal and more. Along with his wife, Anny, we slipped through a gap in the gate of the premises, with Albert assuring us he knew anyone in charge if we were to get caught.
Back at Anny and Albert’s we were treated to rabbit pâté for supper, a convenient leftover from their grand-children’s visit at lunchtime, and various excellent bottles of local wine were opened to go with it. As well as French, Albert and Anny speak patois Alsacien as do many older people here. To me, it sounds more like German than French, but Albert says Swiss-Germans cannot understand it and even Germans have trouble with it. We were welcomed warmly in Alsace, but this was an evening of hospitality that stands out.